As the four-month-old protest movement continues to grow, the government is cracking down harder than ever on the civilian population. While fewer journalists are currently in prison than in previous months, they continue to be a priority target for the authorities, who are still trying to suppress news and information about the repression. The massacres are free to continue far from the cameras and without reporters looking on.
Reporters Without Borders condemns journalist and activist Omar Al-Assad’s arrest on the evening of 3 July as he attended a demonstrator’s funeral in Al-Qaddam, a southwestern suburb of the capital. Born in 1987, Assad is studying journalism at Damascus University and has been working for several publications including the dailies As-Safir and Al-Hayat and the satellite TV station Al-Jazeera since the start of the protests.
Ola Ramadan, a human rights defender and Facebook activist who campaigns against human trafficking in Syria, was arrested on 1 July. She has since been released.
The authorities have not shut down the Internet completely but much slower connection speeds are being reported in some cities.
Reporters Without Borders has learned of another case of a state media journalist resigning in protest against the repression. The first two were national TV president Maher Dib and Tishreen-based reporter Iyad Issa. They have been followed by Farhan Al-Matar, who announced on 22 June that he was resigning from state-owned Syrian TV and the Arab writers’ union because of the unacceptable scale of the crackdown.
The trial of the blogger Kamal Sheikhou has meanwhile been postponed until 28 July
Presidential press officer Ahmed Al-Soufi threatened BBC correspondent Abdallah Gharib during a news conference at the Taj Seba Hotel in Sanaa on 5 July, and accused all the journalists present of being in the pay of foreign countries, calling them “traitors to Yemen.”
The Republican Guard seized 3,000 copies of the independent weekly Al-Masdar at the Beit Bous checkpoint in Sanaa on 5 July. They were meant for distribution to newsstands and bookstores in the surrounding region. The person in charge of distribution was threatened with arrest.
The photo-journalist Mohamed Al-Imad was physically attacked while covering a demonstration by women demanding President Ali Abdallah Saleh’s departure in Sanaa’s Change Square on 2 July. His equipment was broken.
Unidentified assailants attacked the journalist Saqer Al-Sanidi on 29 June, smashed his camera and threatened to kill him.
Reporters Without Borders condemns the continuing detention of New Zealander journalist Glen Johnson, who was arrested on 25 June on a charge of entering the country illegally. His family is still without any news of him. A Free Glen Johnson from Yemens jail! page, has been created on Facebook.
Reporters Without Borders hails King Hamad Ben Issa Al Khalifa’s announcement on 29 June that the prosecution of civilians before military courts is being ended and that their cases are being transferred to civilian courts. The press freedom organization calls on the authorities to drop all charges, including civil charges, against journalists and all other persons who were arrested during protests.
The organization also urges the courts to quash the jail sentences that a military court passed on 22 June on 21 defendants accused of belonging to “terrorist” organizations and trying to overthrow the government. Eight of them, including the human rights activist and blogger Abduljalil Al-Singace, received life sentences. Thirteen others received sentences ranging from two to 15 years in prison. The blogger Ali Abdulemam, who was tried in absentia, also received a 15-year jail sentence.
Reporters Without Borders has learned of the release of the following journalists and bloggers in the past few days:
- Hamza Ahmed Youssef Al-Dairy and his father Ahmed, both administrators of the Aldair.net forum (http://www.aldair.net/forum/), were released on 3 July, more than three months after their arrest on 1 April. Ahmed was not taken before a judge but his son is still charged with illegal assembly and damaging public property.
- Bahrain Society of Photography president Mohamed Salam Al-Sheikh, who was arrested on 11 May, was freed on 2 July. He is now to be prosecuted before a civilian court.
- Hossein Abbas Salem, a photographer arrested on 18 March, was released on 2 July.
- Mohamed Ali Al-Aradi, an Al-Bilad photographer who was arrested on 8 May, was released on 29 June.
The obstacles to media freedom and journalists’ freedom of movement had not however ended. Two foreign journalists were detained for two hours on 3 July.